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What Is Sleep Debt And What Effect Does It Have?

By Edited Mar 7, 2014 1 2

Recently I have found myself having trouble getting enough sleep, this lead me to learn about sleep debt and the effect that it has on my everyday life. 

Need More Of This?

Sleep Illustration
Credit: Image by Sean MacEntee

Sleep debt is the sleep that your body requires but has not received. 

Sleep Debt = Bodies Required Sleep - Actual Sleep

It is a debt that the body keeps track of. The body will tell you when you are only in a small amount of debt, but as your debt mounts you become less and less able to make the distinction that you have a deficit, with no monthly reminders (I wish all debts were like this) we can fall further and further behind as we become conditioned to the sleep deprivation that comes with sleep debt.

Recent medical research has determined that I need eight hours of sleep per night and that not getting it can lead to deprivation, this can then cause fuzzy-headedness, irritability, impaired driving and fatigue. Severe deprivation can lead to increased health consequences such as weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, reduced immune system and memory loss. With most people suffering from chronic deprivation this is disturbing.


Some Disturbing Infromation

Efffects Of Sleep Deprivation
Credit: Image by Wikipedia

Sleep debt can be accrued in two ways, not enough sleep or a poor quality of sleep. Poor quality can be caused my many factures such as not having a comfortable bed or it can be a result of health complications. I myself discovered a couple of years ago that I suffer from sleep apnea, which causes me to stop breathing during the restorative periods of sleep, this results in me waking up about every 30 mins, not a good way of getting sleep. I now have a CPAP machine that ensures that I keep breathing and the difference is amazing.

NOTE: If you are waking multiple times during the night gasping for air or you are observed to stop breathing for periods at night seek medical attention.

While sleeping you go through a cycle of sleep several times, this consist of light dosing, REM and non-REM. During non-REM is when the mind and the body rest and restore from the day’s activities, this allows your body to regenerate it’s self so that you are ready for the new day. During REM sleep (characterized by rapid eye movement behind the eyelids) is when the brain is processing the information from the day, this is when your short term memory becomes long term memory. This is also when we have our dreams which is the brain processing the day’s activities such as emotions etc.

Wish It Was This Easy?

Sleeping Lady
Credit: Photo by RelaxingMusic

On average American’s sleep 6.9 hours a night, 6.8 hours on a week nights and 7.4 hours on weekends. As you can see this is well below the recommended 8 hours, this results in severe sleep deprivation and leads to lost productivity and increased illness due to decreased health. This costs business in the US over $576 billion per year.

Studies have shown that missing just two hours of sleep per day for a week results in the same effect as not sleeping for one night.

The good news is that you can repay your sleep debt, however it is unwise to repay it all in one instalment. Sleeping too much to repay your debt can be dangerous as it can cause you to interfere with your circadian clock which can affect your sleep over the following nights.

Your circadian clock regulates the body and its functions to ensure that the body is working properly. It does not just control your sleep but also your body temperature, blood pressure, digestive enzymes and some of your hormones.

Can You Relate To This?

Sleeping On The Train
Credit: Photo by Chris Gladis

The best way of catching up is to have an extra hour or two of sleep per night. This is best achieved by going to sleep as soon as you feel tired at night and then sleeping in till your body tells you it is time to wake up. By using an alarm clock we interrupt the normal pattern of sleep and this can lead to a poorer quality. Once you repay your debt you will find that by going to bed about nine hours before you need to get up and following a regular routine, you will naturally wake up on time to get to work.

For people with chronic sleep deprivation it is important that you take your time to catch up on sleep as sudden dramatic changes in sleep patterns can have more of a negative effect.

It is important that you ensure that your sleeping arrangements are comfortable such as ensuring that you are using the right size pillow for you, the bed is not too soft or too hard and ensuring that you have a quiet and relaxing environment.

If you have difficulty in getting to sleep or sleeping the full night there are several things that you can do, one of which is to invest in a sleeping program. These programs are designed to help you achieve and sustain the brainwaves required to get a restful night’s sleep.

Please share this article with your friends.

Related Articles by Josh Young

What Is Sleep Apnea?

6 Tips on How To Sleep Better

Additional Resources From Amazon

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Mar 4, 2014 7:33am
Great Article, I am in sleep debt right now but I also have Sleep Apnea so I need to go get that CPAP
Mar 4, 2014 3:14pm
Thanks Jacob
If you have sleep apnea you are almost guaranteed to have sleep debt due to problems getting the quality of sleep that you need.
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  1. "Sleep Debt." Wikipedia. 25/02/2014 <Web >
  2. "Repaying Your Sleep Debt." Harvard Health Publications. 25/02/2014 <Web >
  3. "Fact or Fiction Can You Catch Up On Sleep." Scientific American. 25/02/2014 <Web >
  4. "US Workforce Illness Costs576B Annually From Sick Days To Workers Compensation." Forbes. 25/02/2014 <Web >

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